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A Beginner’s Guide to Throwing a Fundraising Auction: 5 Tips for Item Procurement

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fundraising auction

This is part one in a fundraising auction two-part series. 

When executed properly, a fundraising auction can be an incredibly effective way to raise money for your nonprofit. In this blog post, I’ll cover five tips for nonprofits looking to throw their first auctions and how you can start planning for one that will wow your guests and inspire them to take action and support your mission.

Tip #1: Put the right team together. 

Putting together and running a fundraising auction takes a lot of work. With that in mind, you’ll want to bring the right people together to pull off this event

Start by figuring out who you can ask for help and what they can help you with during the planning process and at the actual event. Some people you may want to include on your team might be: staff members, event committee members, board members, and volunteers.

Once you finalize your team, assign them specific roles and responsibilities so they know what they’re doing, how to do it, and when they need to do it. 

Some members may enjoy speaking to local businesses and inviting their friends to donate items while others may feel more comfortable entering the items received into a spreadsheet and arranging items the night of the event. Play to people’s strengths and interests.

Tip #2: Set goals for your fundraising auction. 

You won’t know if your event is a success unless you know which metrics to track. For a fundraising auction, you’ll want to define goals like how many items you would like to auction at the event, how many guests you want to attend the event or participate in the auction, and how much money you want to raise.

In terms of figuring out how many items to procure, a good rule of thumb is to typically have one to two items per expected event guest. If you expect a huge crowd, this may not be feasible—especially if you have a small team procuring the items. But by knowing how much you hope to raise, you can plan your time more wisely. That might mean you spend more time pursuing big ticket items instead of spending time seeking lots of small items to meet a certain item quota.

Brainstorm items for your “wish list” with your team and assign different members to procure them.

Tip #3: Procure items early in the planning process. 

Give yourself plenty of time to acquire items as procurement can take time. Remember, you’re going to need to reach out to people and organizations, wait for their response, and then wait for the item to be mailed to you or picked up by a staff member or volunteer.

Sometimes it can take weeks or even months for an item to arrive or be ready for your event. Many companies actually require you to apply several months in advance, so the earlier you start reaching out, the better! If possible, start your procurement process about six months ahead of the event. 

Tip #4: Get creative.  

Consider your audience and what they may be interested in and then seek out a variety of different items based on those interests. Remember to vary the price point and category (entertainment, sports, spa, food, jewelry, memorabilia, etc.) so you’re not excluding supporters who might not have a lot of money to spend on items. 

Procuring unique items that your guests may not normally seek out themselves or have access to outside of the auction will improve the likelihood that you’ll reach your goals so get creative and think outside of traditional auction items. 

Can you include a one-of-a-kind experience or item? What about exclusive tickets to an event or venue? Could you include vacations or trips? Brainstorm with your team and reach out to organizations you’re interested in connecting with and see if they have any ideas. 

Pro tip: A good way to involve your board of directors is to ask each member to create or donate a unique basket for the auction. This is a fun way to add to the variety of physical items, as well as a chance for your board members to show off their creativity and take pride in knowing their work will be seen by guests and raise funds for the mission they care so much about! Make sure to give them credit on the item sheet. 

Tip #5: Create a procurement letter and donation form.

Just as you would build a case for your organization when sending a traditional fundraising appeal, it’s also important to approach auction item procurement the same way.

Create a compelling and heartfelt letter introducing your cause, your event, the goals for your event, and how the money will support your mission. Once you’ve communicated who you are and what you do, invite the recipient to support your cause by donating an item to the auction. Make sure you include the fact that their donation is tax deductible in the letter. 

Attach a donation form to the letter with space for the item donor to include their name, address, phone number, item description and value, and any exceptions or restrictions associated with the item (such as an expiration date). Be sure the donor knows where to send their donation and give them your contact information in case they have any questions or need the item picked up.

Follow these tips, you’ll be well on your way to throwing a successful fundraising auction!

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